Through a strange turn of events, Korean American journalist Suki Kim finds herself invited to join 30 other Westerners to teach English at North Korea’s Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, an exclusive school for 270 sons of North Korea’s elite. During the six months she is there in 2011, Kim takes meticulous notes, saving the documents only on a USB stick and keeping it on her person at all times. The result is the memoir Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, chronicling her interactions with her students, the iron grip of her “minders,” and the constant fear of being watched, of being reported, of saying or doing something wrong.
At times, Kim feels love and compassion for the young men in her charge; at other times, she’s terrified that they are spying on her. She can’t decide if they really believe the things they do (that the Korean language is so superior it is spoken in every country, that their Juche Tower is the tallest in the world) or if they just say they do for fear of retribution. They know of Bill Gates, but they don’t know about the Internet. They play basketball and are familiar with the NBA, but they’ve never heard of skiing. It’s a fascinating – and sad – glimpse into the most isolated country in the world.
Details: Hardcover, available October 14, $24, crownpublishing.com.